Best of the Best: Catchers
Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
With the off-season being at an essential standstill for the Orioles as far as the news goes, I thought I would bring you, the reader, a weekly list of the top five Orioles of all time for each position (second base, catcher, etc). This past week in the ranking of the best Orioles’ second basemen, Davey Johnson ended up with the #1 spot. This week’s position is going to be one of great defensive importance and who also works closely with the pitchers: the catcher.
A catcher’s main role is to receive the ball from the pitcher. Positioned behind home plate, the catcher is somewhat of the General out on the field directing the other players in order to put them in the best position for a defensive play. The catcher must have a great understanding of the game, including knowing each hitter’s tendencies as well as the pitcher’s strengths and weaknesses. With this vast array of knowledge of how the game works, many catchers end up becoming managers for major league teams.
The physical demand of having to be hunched over for nine innings throughout a long season can wear down catchers’ knees, slowing them down and shortening their careers. Along with being in an uncomfortable position for nine innings, catchers must be tough as well as strong because base runners rounding third coming home will try to run through the catcher and knock the ball loose. This position is not for the faint of heart.
Although there have been many impressive defensive catchers over the years for Baltimore, many of them did not have great batting average numbers. Many catchers are known for being below average hitters. That is the case for this list.
This list is based purely on the player’s statistics in seven categories while said player was with the Orioles organization. The seven categories I will be judging them in are batting average, fielding percentage (as catcher), games played (as catcher), All Star games (if applicable), Gold Gloves (if applicable), RBIs, and home runs. Here we go!
5. Andy Etchebarren
This player wore the number 8 while in Baltimore and he was not the “Iron Man.” Andy Etchebarren spent 12 years of his professional career in an Orioles uniform. In his time with the team, he batted .232/.302/.350.
This two-time All Star had his best year with the ballclub in 1966. During the same year the Orioles won their first World Series, Etchebarren finished with 6 triples, 14 doubles, 11 homeruns, and 50 RBIs. These stats coupled with his .293 OBP helped him finish 17th in the 1966 American League MVP voting.
Etchebarren helped the Orioles win World Series titles in 1966 and 1970. He also helped the O’s win American League Pennants in 1969 and 1971. One of Etchebarren’s career highlights was during the 1966 Series when he had the honor to be the last batter ever to face off against Sandy Koufax.
Etchebarren was a good batter. He was a solid defender as well with a career .981 fielding percentage. However, the lack of hardware such as Gold Glove Awards kept me from putting him any higher up on this list.
4. Gus Triandos
Gus Triandos delivered an All Star performance during his time with the Birds. In his eight years as an Oriole, he hit 142 homeruns and 517 RBIs. His bat was actually consistent with a lifetime .249 batting average. His career highlights helped make his career as an Oriole legend.
Because he earned the starting catcher position for the 1958 American League All Star team, Triandos broke Yogi Berra‘s eight year streak at that position. Later that year, Triandos caught Hoyt Wilhelm‘s no hitter on September 20th. It was a difficult game for Triandos to catch because he had to use an outsized catcher’s mitt in order to handle Wilhelm’s wicked knuckleball.
It was obvious that Triandos could handle the knuckleball that game. He had good defensive skills, sporting a lifetime .986 fielding percentage as an Oriole. Triandos was one of the early players to wear orange and black in Baltimore and he was also one of the first household names for the Orioles. However, the next three players on this list, in my professional opinion, did a much better job from behind home plate as a catcher.
3. Chris Hoiles
Chris Hoiles spent his entire Major League career with the Orioles. In Hoiles’ first year as the starting catcher in 1991, he stepped up to the challenge of the position by only committing one error in 89 games and ended the season with a .998 fielding percentage as catcher. This resulted in him becoming the fifth rookie catcher to win a fielding title in MLB history.
Hoiles maintained an impressive fielding percentage as a catcher throughout his entire career. He ended his baseball playing days with a career .994 fielding percentage as catcher. Hoiles was a great hitter as well. His best year batting was in 1993 when he had a .310 batting average along with 29 homeruns and 82 RBIs. Hoiles certainly was comfortable hitting the “long ball.” On August 14, 1998, he hit two grand slams in the same game.
Hoiles ended his career batting an impressive .262/.366/.467. He cemented his career in Orioles history in 2009 when he was inducted into the Orioles Hall of Fame. Hoiles always had solid batting numbers and his fielding percentage speaks for itself. What amazes me is that a Gold Glove award and All Star nomination eluded him throughout his entire career.
2. Rick Dempsey
When Orioles fans think of a “fan favorite,” Rick Dempsey is a player who comes to mind. From his hysterical antics during rain delays on top of the tarp-covered field to him lip syncing with the Invisible Orioles Magic Band, he could always make the crowd chuckle and smile whenever the mood hit him. Along with comedic efforts, Dempsey had a very blue collar style of play.
Although he did not hit a lot of homeruns in his 12 years with the organization, he certainly did knock in countless runners. His 355 RBIs attested to this fact. Dempsey was also a tough catcher while playing defense. He knew he was going to get hit a lot by runners trying to score. He accepted that fact and embraced it. He was, in my mind, the toughest player the O’s have ever had.
In 1983, Dempsey helped the Orioles win their third World Series title by beating the Phillies in five games. Dempsey had an absolutely stellar performance, batting .385/.467/.923 in the Series which included a home run and 2 RBIs. This culminated in Dempsey being named the 1983 World Series MVP.
The reason why Dempsey is not at the top of this list is because his lifetime batting average is not very good with the O’s. No Gold Gloves and no All Star Team selections along with his lifetime batting average of .238 is not a good formula for being the “best of the best” as far as catchers go.
1. Matt Wieters
Matt Wieters has been a part of the Baltimore Orioles organization for the past five seasons. As an Oriole, he has made a name for himself in a very short period of time.
His defensive ability cannot be denied, he is one of the best, if not the best, catchers in the game of baseball today. As of right now he has a .994 fielding percentage calling the signals behind home plate. Even more impressive than his fielding percentage is his ability to throw base runners out trying to steal. In his five years with the O’s, Wieters has a 33 caught stealing percentage. To put that statistic into retrospect, the MLB averages 27%. Because of this outstanding play in the field, Wieters has been awarded two Gold Gloves in his career.
Wieters is a better hitter than most people give him credit for, batting a lifetime .255/.319/.420. He is one of the few hitters on the current roster that is known for his power. He has 87 career homeruns with having at least 22 round-trippers the past three seasons.
Many Orioles fans were not pleased with Wieters’ performance this past season. However, if you look at his numbers he actually had a good year. This two-time All Star player had a .997 fielding percentage which is a career best for the 27 year old.
Yes, his batting numbers were not spectacular (.235/.287/.417). Look at his other hitting statistics though. He had 22 homeruns, 79 RBIs, and 29 doubles. He also had only eight hits less than the season prior. It, in actuality, was not a bad season for him.
It is obvious that Wieters is not the fastest of baserunners, that is due to bad knees from all the games the 6’5” catcher has played. I think Wieters is going to have to sooner or later switch positions to possibly first base or he will ruin his knees. However, at the current moment, he is a catcher and, in my opinion, the best the Orioles have ever seen.
Well that is my list. Anyone you think I left out or if the order should be different, just leave a comment. Next Tuesday, I will be doing another “Best of the Best.” You have the decision of what position I should write about next, comment below and I will pick the most popular.